Lewisham East CLP chair suspended by Labour over “sex slave” tweets

Sienna Rodgers

The chair of Lewisham East CLP, Ian McKenzie, has been suspended by the Labour Party over tweets that described Emily Thornberry as “too old” to be made a “sex slave” by Islamic State.

During a Twitter exchange in 2015, McKenzie criticised the idea that anyone could negotiate with terrorist group ISIS. “Maybe she’d agree sex slavery to one man only, provided he didn’t sell her on or insist on gang rape,” he wrote.

In 2016, McKenzie made a similar comment, this time referring to the Shadow Foreign Secretary. He tweeted: “Emily Thornberry is too old for ISIS. They won’t make a sex slave of her. They’ll behead her and dump her in a mass grave.”

McKenzie has been suspended while the matter is investigated by the party.

The tweets were unearthed by left-wing writer and activist Owen Jones following allegations made by Aaron Bastani of Novara Media that McKenzie had engaged in improper behaviour in the Lewisham East selection contest.

There was some confusion over the suspension yesterday, as journalists were briefed by the party that McKenzie had been suspended, before reversing their position, while the local party chair had not been informed.

McKenzie confirmed in a lengthy statement today that he received an email from Labour at 9.25am informing him of his suspension. The elected party official explained that his tweets were not intended to be jokes about killing Thornberry, but a “deadly serious condemnation” of the actions of ISIS.

Baroness Ann Taylor and Labour MP Ben Bradshaw have tweeted in support of McKenzie.

British novelist Linda Grant tweeted in defence of McKenzie, and offered to clarify the comments on his behalf to Labour’s compliance unit.


Ian McKenzie’s full statement:

I was suspended from the Labour Party at 9.25 am this morning by email, many hours after lobby journalists were told. There has been a controversy on Twitter where tweets I made in December 2015 and January 2016 have been taken out of context and my views badly misrepresented. I wish to clarify them.

At the time of the tweets, ISIS (Daesh) were very strong in both Syria and Iraq and controlled large areas of territory in both countries. In December 2015, there was a parliamentary debate on air strikes in Syria, the debate which had been closed by Hilary Benn as Shadow Foreign Secretary.

ISIS captured territory and terrorised local populations. They did this by killing men and separating women into the young, whom they enslaved for sex, and those older, whom they beheaded and dumped in mass graves. All of this is well documented. I remember an especially harrowing TV report of a Yazidi mass grave that had been found.

My original tweet was about an interview about ISIS on Channel 4. I said it would have been good for Andrew Neil to have done the interview because the argument was “ISIS could be negotiated with” and Andrew Neil would have made a better job of demolishing it. Sadly, the link to the interview no longer functions. It is not material though.

Linda Grant, the novelist, who used to follow me at the time, asked me: “When you negotiate you give and take. Interested to know what this woman [the Channel 4 interviewee] would be prepared to give. Sex slavery?”

Linda was clearly saying negotiating with ISIS was absurd because their practices are so abhorrent. She was parodying such a negotiation. She wasn’t advocating sex slavery but the very opposite. I replied, in similar vein, by answering her question: “Indeed. Maybe she’d agree sex slavery to one man only, provided he didn’t insist on gang rape.”

By which I sought to show the absurdity of negotiating with these murderous misogynistic barbarians. The tweet does that. I wasn’t advocating sex slavery, but condemning it.

About a month later, on 17 January 2016, Jeremy Corbyn was widely reported as hinting at talks with ISIS. Emily Thornberry was by then the Shadow Defence Secretary and agreed with her Party Leader.

Again, in a similar vein as the December tweets, I criticised Thornberry’s view that ISIS could be negotiated with by pointing out the disgusting nature of the ISIS practice of separating women into the young ones for sex slaves, and the older ones for killing.

Emily Thornberry is at an age at which she would be selected by ISIS to be killed. I said so. I stated a fact that is disputed by no-one. I did not advocate, nor joke about, Emily Thornberry’s killing, but the very opposite. My tweet was a deadly serious condemnation.

I wish to make clear that I believe the following:

1. ISIS are disgusting murdering misogynists who, when they conquer an area of a country, enslave the young women and kill the rest.

2. I do not believe that attempts should be made to negotiate with them, nor is this possible

3. I believe that attempts to negotiate with them are capable of being interpreted as tolerating their murderous misogyny.

4. I think contemplating negotiating with people who behave this way is disgusting.

5. I will not apologise for criticising murderous misogyny.

6. I will not apologise for criticising any attempt to negotiate with murderous misogyny.

7. I do not believe that ISIS should kill Emily Thornberry, or kill anyone, and believe it is very clear I have never said I did.

8. I apologise that my tweets in 2015 and 2016 were insufficiently clear in expressing these views, and that they have therefore caused offence. I’m truly sorry that I caused this to happen.

I hope that this unfortunate conflagration can be swiftly ended and that I may be able to go back to doing what I do best: asking people to vote Labour.

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